Nina Vatolina and Nikolai Denisov, Long live Soviet Pilots - proud falcons of our Motherland!, 1938
In the late 1930s, the Soviet leadership watched with increasing alarm the machinations of Nazi Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.
It was becoming clear that war in Europe was imminent, and it was Stalin’s aim to stay out of the war for as long as possible, as the forces of the Soviet Union were unprepared for battle.
With the multitude of successes on the world stage in aviation, Soviet propaganda could focus on this arena of achievement and employ it as a deterrent to Germany to engage the USSR in war.
Produced in 1938, ‘Long live the Soviet pilots — the proud falcons of our motherland!’ by Nikolai Denisov and Nina Vatolina, emphasises this military might by showing a sky full of aircraft engaged in an airshow.
The display is watched by Stalin (in military-style tunic but as yet no uniform of rank) and Marshal of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov (in marshal’s uniform). With their golden, upturned faces, and white uniforms, the two men are the centre of light in the poster.
Stalin salutes the pilots in a gesture that is both a mark of respect and a form of benediction, wishing them long life and protection from the very real dangers of their calling.
Despite the defence of the nation being Voroshilov’s portfolio, it is Stalin’s image that predominates. It was perhaps particularly important for propaganda to play up the might of Soviet aviation with war imminent as, in reality, the Soviet Airforce was ill equipped for military battle.
Substantial effort had been focused on the ‘higher, faster, longer’ principle in aviation, which had led to the attainment of so many world records; however, these were not the sorts of aircraft needed to engage successfully in battle, as the war would come to demonstrate.
Dr Anita Pisch
Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.